Monday, December 26, 2005

The Real Purpose of the Drug War

When you look at the roots of the drug war, it all began with people of color.

In the late 19th Century, the Chinese were the first to be targeted. In 1877, the first opium law was enacted in San Francisco of all places. The law made it illegal to smoke opium in opium dens. This law basically did everything except say it was illegal for Chinese individuals to smoke opium. Opium dens were primarily if not entirely a Chinese practice. The ludicrous assertion for needing this law was that Chinese men were luring white women with opium and defiling them. This is a complete falsehood and never had even the slightest basis in fact. The same tactic was used in regard to African-Americans in the South during the early 1900's, with a couple of variations. In the South, the demon drug was cocaine. At that time, white males claimed we were raping and murdering white women after getting high on cocaine. This is as baseless as the claims against the Chinese. When it comes to cannabis, Mexican immigrants became the scapegoat during the Great Depression. Before the crash of 1929, we had a strong immigrant labor force that was more than welcome during the hugely prosperous period for the U.S. economy. This drastically changed after the crash. When so many lost their jobs, Mexican immigrants were viewed as a problem not a benefit. White citizens could not tolerate standing in bread lines with Mexicans. In order to handle this, they targeted their use of cannabis. In many border states, draconian laws against cannabis were passed. These laws ordinarily produced 50-100 year sentences for nothing more than smoking a joint. If Mexicans were not given these absolutely ludicrous sentences, they were simply deported.

Over the 90 plus years the drug war has been waged, a great deal of evidence has come out to show the true intent of the laws. One of the most prominent examples in recent history comes from the crack cocaine problem of the 80's. If you take a look back at news reports of the time, you will find that neither the government nor the media considered crack a problem. This was the case until it was apparent the problem was affecting white individuals. Once this happened, crack went from a footnote to a full-blown epidemic. This shows that the majority begins to care when whites become collateral damage. Maybe the strongest piece of evidence lies in felon disenfranchisement laws. The slant of these laws is shown in the fact that they did not exist during Prohibition. Many, Many people went to jail during that time. The majority of the individuals were white. None of those individuals lost their right to vote and no one suggested that they should. In sharp contrast, politicians have proposed laws giving life imprisonment for drug trafficking on the first offense, and the death penalty on the second offense. The system is designed to keep non-violent drug offenders from reintegrating into society. Felon disenfranchisement along with the inability to receive financial aid for college can really wall a person in. There are estimates that a third of the African-Americans in the South have lost their right to vote. This is repackaged Jim Crow at its worst.

The drug war today has morphed into a monolith that has its fingers everywhere. It has its own economy, which provides livelihoods for untold thousands. Law enforcement, substance abuse treatment facilities and many others depend on the drug laws remaining as they are. If you ask most police officers about the drug war, they will tell you how necessary it is. What's necessary is all the money local departments receive because of it. Federal funding and seizures are needed for local PD's to operate. If the drug war ended tomorrow, at least 200,000 "legitimate" jobs would be lost.

In this time of war, so many talk about our precious freedoms. We live in a nanny state. When the government tells adults what they can and can't do with their own bodies, that's exactly what you have.